The Bears were 7-3 last season. 7-3 after a 31-20 victory over the Chargers and five straight wins. It was at this point that I decided that the Bears should be the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. It was also at this point that they lost Jay Cutler for the rest of the season and lost five in a row until finally falling out of playoff contention.
Chicago scored 26.8 points per game under Cutler. They scored 14.1 points per game under everyone else, which also included the loss of Matt Forte for the final four games. The result of all of this was that the Bears began to cut ties with some people in their front office and some of the coaches, though Lovie Smith will return for his ninth season.
Mike Martz won't, the success of his 1999 run in St. Louis has finally worn off. A genius no more. Neither will Jerry Angelo, his 11 year run as General Manager is finally over. Instead, former Minnesota Vikings head coach will get his first ever shot at being an offensive coordinator, and Phil Emery (director of scouting for the Falcons and Chiefs) will get his first ever shot at being a GM.
These changes should significantly effect the make-up of the Bears, but we don't know to what extent. Certainly, Chicago has made some additions on offense that could help them, or they could be the same middle-of-the-pack offense that they've almost always been. It's certainly going to be interesting to watch.
Here is a preview of the Chicago Bears 2012 offense and what it could mean for your fantasy team.
2012 Record: 8-8
Skill Players Drafted: Alshon Jeffery, WR (2nd Round), Evan Rodriguez, FB/TE (4th Round)
Dearly Departed: Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz, Caleb Hanie, Marion Barber, Roy Williams
If you've followed me on FakeTeams or anywhere really, you'll know that I have made a 180 on Cutler. I used to think he was overrated, whiny, and just an average quarterback. Then I watched him play some more in Chicago and I think he's probably got some elite skills that few quarterbacks have, even if he still has some flaws in his game. He's really a lot like Brett Favre, which means he'll probably end up retiring with haters that also acknowledge he had Hall of Fame talent. It's way too early to put Cutler's name in the same sentence as Hall of Fame, unless you just did what I did and said that it's a possibility if everything broke right.
You shouldn't put The Killing and "great show!" in the same sentence either, but I just did by saying that they don't belong together. You can put almost any two things in the same sentence if you structure it right.
Can Cutler take his game to the next level though?
This is probably the best core of players around Cutler that he's ever had. The addition of Michael Bush is key to establishing a running game and giving actual insurance to Matt Forte. He's got both his Vanderbilt buddy (Bennett) and his Broncos buddy (Marshall) plus three or four other capable wide receivers with a different set of skills. Together, they are Liam Neeson in Taken, though they need to stay healthy and just improve overall.
Plenty of quarterbacks are average-to-good for most of their twenties (see: Manning, Eli) and then just get better. If Cutler can settle into 250 yards per game, complete 60% of his passes, and stay healthy, he'll be every bit as good as he was expected to be when he was drafted, if not better. I predict a mini-breakout.
2012 Projection: 63% completions, 4,000 yards, 30 TD, 16 INT
The Bears really don't want another Hanie debacle, so they brought in Campbell as a much better insurance option. Campbell is probably a slightly-above league average starter, which makes him one of the top backups in the NFL, and should anything happen to Cutler, he'd probably be okay but nothing more than an emergency fill-in for fantasy purposes. He has thrown about one touchdown per game in his NFL career with an 82.6 QB rating.
2012 Projection: Not Hanie-ing.
Forte just wanted to get paid so that if he got sick and missed work, it won't hurt to miss work. MATTFLAC!
So the Bears finally signed him to a four-year deal, and long-term fantasy owners will hopefully not have to worry about any holdouts or the like, which is good because Forte has the ability to be a top-5 running back. Concerns on his value this year however center around the addition of Bush and Marshall as red zone options, as well as the Bears efforts to keep him healthy after 1,237 touches in four years. Forte is coming off of a career high 4.9 yards per carry, but scored just four times. I doubt I'd lesser his value this season, considering that he didn't get touchdowns in 2011 and I expect that to go up.
2012 Projection: 220 carries, 1,100 yards, 55 catches for 550 yards, 8 total touchdowns.
Also coming off of a career year is Bush, the former Louisville star that has spent the majority of his four seasons as a backup in Oakland. He is now a backup in Chicago. His running style is not considered to be that of a featured back, but Bush totaled 977 yards rushing and 418 yards receiving in 16 games and 6 starts for Oakland last season. His 3.8 yards per carry was a career-low however.
Bush is a "workhorse" type back and he was very capable for the Raiders, but doesn't have the same explosiveness as a guy like Darren McFadden or Forte. He averaged only 3.31 yards per carry in his final seven games. He's a necessary handcuff to Forte, but don't expect the same level of production. He'd be somewhere between a RB2 and bench guy, even if Forte got hurt.
2012 Projection: 150 carries, 650 yards, 200 yards receiving, 6 touchdowns.
Kahlil Bell, Lorenzo Booker, and Armando Allen
This season's version of the "Worst Case Scenario" is seen above. Marion Barber was considered a failure for Chicago last season, which is why they picked up Bush, but if anything happens to both Forte and Bush, it's a lot of unknowns. Bell had 337 yards on 79 carries last year and could be capable, but we just don't know. Chicago hopes we don't find out.
The last time that Cutler and Marshall played together, Marshall had 104 catches for 1,265 yards and 6 touchdowns. He did, however, also put up 101 catches for 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns mostly with Kyle Orton the next year. Marshall is going to regularly produce at the same level, even grabbing 167 catches for 2,228 yards with the Dolphins and whoever their quarterbacks have been in the last two years.
I expect Marshall to be Marshall. Marshall, Marshall, Marshall.
2012 Projection: 85 catches, 1,100 yards, 7 TD
Had it not been for weight concerns prior to the draft, Jeffrey could have easily been a first round pick. At least, that's where he was projected by many. But he fell to 45th overall and the Bears seem to be very happy about it, as people around there are calling him a "Marshall clone." (How convenient!)
The rest of the Bears receivers after Marshall are kind of hard to predict because there's something I like at least a little bit about all of them, but none of them have produced consistently and at the NFL level. I'll conservatively estimate the rest.
2012 Projection: 45 catches for 700 yards and 4 TD
Probably the best return-man in NFL history, Hester has yet to make his mark as a receiver. But the coaches in Chicago seem very impressed with him this year, though it seems like I hear something along those lines every year. His 369 receiving yards were the lowest they've been since he was a rookie. He might have peaked in 2009 when he had 57 catches for 757 yards.
2012 Projection: 30 catches, 400 yards, 3 TD
Others to possibly peak in 2009? Bennett has also had high expectations on him, especially since he was Cutlers hookup-buddy (that sounded much worse than it was meant to) since college. However, he had 54 catches and 717 yards in '09 and just 70 catches for 942 yards and seven starts in the last two seasons combined. He is still just 25.
2012 Projection: 45 catches for 600 yards and 4 TD
He led the Bears in receiving last season, but I'm not entirely hopeful that he'll stay healthy enough to contribute much at all. Not going to project a player currently on PUP.
Dane Sanzenbacher and Eric Weems
Sanzenbacher just seems like the perfect example of a "Chicago guy" and quickly became a fan favorite. Weems made the Pro Bowl for special teams in 2010 but has 205 career receiving yards in four seasons. It seems like these two will round out the crew, especially with Knox currently on the PUP. But they're long shots to provide significant return for fantasy purposes.
Martz obviously was never a tight end guy, but what about Tice? It's hard to say for sure, since this is his first official season as an OC, but when he was last with the Vikings, Jermaine Wiggins had 69 catches for 568 yards. Davis is talented, but it's hard to predict production from a starter that had 206 yards last season.
I'll be more than fair...
2012 Projection: 30 catches for 340 yards and 2 TD
That's it for Chicago. Who do you think will breakout for the Bears?